Tuesday 6 December 2011

Saint Gobban of Old Leighlin

Tradition records that Saint Gobban was the founder of the monastery of Leighlin, and in the post below, first made in 2009 on my own blog, I examine the evidence that the Saint Gobban commemorated on December 6 was Leighlin's founder. We start with the recording of the saint's feast in the Martyrology of Oengus and the accompanying scholiasts' notes:

6. The feast of Gobban,
shout of thousands! with a
train of great martyrdom, the
angelic rampart, the virginal
abbot, lucid descendant of


6. of Gobban i.e. of Cell Lamraide in Hui Cathrenn in the west of Ossory, i.e. a thousand monks it had, as experts say.
angelic wall, i.e. angels founded the wall of his church for him.
Lane, i.e. an old tribe, which was once in the south of Ireland, and of them was Gobban.

Is this holy abbot the founder of the monastery at Old Leighlin? The problem is that there are a number of saintly Gobbans listed in the Irish calendars, including one 'Goibhenn, of Tigh Scuithin', who is commemorated on 23 May. He too has been identified with the founder of Old Leighlin. The classic work on Irish monastic foundations, the Monasticon Hibernicum, (following the authority of Colgan) believes, however, that the Saint Gobban commemorated on December 6 is the founder of the monastery at Old Leighlin:

St. Gobban was the founder of the monastery of Leighlin. There are several saints of that name in the Irish Calendars, but Colgan judged that most probably our saint was the "St. Gobban of Kill-Lamraidhe, in the west of Ossory," who is honoured on the 6th of December: "Hunc Gobanum existimo fuisse ilium celebrem mille monachorum patrem qui postea Ecclesiam de Kill-Lamhraighe rexit" (Acta SS. p. 750). The "Martyrology of Donegal" styles him " Gobban Fionne, of Kill-Lamhraidhe, in Ui-Cathrenn, in the west of Ossory. . . A thousand monks was the number of his convent, and it is at Clonenagh his relics are preserved. He was of the race of Eoghan Mor, son of Oilioll Olum" (p. 327). St. Laserian having visited the monastery about the year 600, St. Gobban, struck with his many virtues, placed it entirely under his charge, and went himself to found another religious house at Kill-Lamhraige, in a western district of Ossory.

Monasticon Hibernicum or A Short Account of the Ancient Monasteries of Ireland in Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol 6 (1869), 198-99.

This identification was also accepted by a 19th-century priest who published a three-volume history of the dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin:

Annals of Clonenagh

A.D. 639. St. Gobban, who founded the monastery of Old Leighlin, and afterwards resigned it to St. Laserian, retiring in 632 to Killamery in Ossory, died this year and was interred at Clonenagh. His feast was observed on the 6th of December.

"Gobban's feast, a shout of thousands, with a train of great martyrdom, angelic wall, abbot of virginity, lucid descendant of Lane." (Feil. Aeng.)

The Gloss in Leab. Br. and entry in Mart. Donegal state that “in Clonenagh are Gobban's relics."

Rev M Comerford" Collections relating to the Dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin" Vol. 3(1886)

All the sources relating to Saint Gobban preserve the tradition that after founding an important monastery at Old Leighlin, he later committed it to the care of Saint Laisren (Molaise, feastday April 18) and retired to another foundation in Ossory. The Life of Saint Laisren, as preserved in the Salamanca MS, describes how this transfer of leadership took place:

(S.8 continued.) The holy abbot Gobanus and his followers served God there. When he heard of the arrival of the man of God [Laisren] he went to meet him and after greeting him led him reverently to the monastery. As they came to the door of the monastery, a certain woman then carrying the body of her son who had been beheaded by robbers, earnestly begged St Lasrianus in the name of God that he might restore her son to life. His feelings of pity were stirred by the lamentations of the mother and he turned to his usual help of prayer, and having placed the head beside its body he restored the dead man to life and gave him back to his mother. Then blessed Gobanus made a treaty of spiritual brotherhood with him, giving him the place and everything in it and setting up a monastery for himself in another place.

Colum Kenny, Molaise – Abbot of Leighlin and Hermit of Holy Island, (Morrigan Press, 1998), 47-48.

So, whilst we cannot say with complete confidence that it is the founder of the monastery of Old Leighlin who is commemorated on December 6, the Martyrology of Oengus makes it clear that an important monastic figure is honoured on this date, a man who is said to have had one thousand monks in his charge and whose relics had been preserved. Thus we can say 'Holy Father, Gobban, pray to God for us!'.


Richard Collins said...

In Pembrokeshire we have a St Govan who came from Wexford in the 6th century...not the same as St Gobban?


Brigit said...

Sorry, Richard but I couldn't open the link. I am aware of the hermit Govan in Wales and of the tradition that he may have been an Irishman. But I see no particular evidence to link him to the founder of Leighlin commemorated on December 6. There are a number of saints Gobban recorded in the Irish sources, one Goban of Ardcavan near Wexford, has a feastday on March 26, which I think is the same date as that of the Welsh hermit. He would thus maybe be a better candidate.

Richard Collins said...

Thanks Brigit, it is a post on my blog dated November 20th.
I'll try the link again


St Govan may have been a Welsh hermit but he was an Irish Saint :)

Brigit said...

Thank you, Richard, I found the post on your blog and left a comment there. The photographs were wonderful. I commend you for your challenge to the 'Celtic Church' as well! I'm hoping at some stage in the future to run a series on Irish saints who flourished in other parts of these islands. I spent 3 of the happiest years of my life as a student in North Wales and was delighted to go back there on holiday a couple of years ago. I didn't make it to Pembrokeshire but went to Saint Seiriol's Well and some other sites. I'm hoping to get back again soon.

Servant of the Infant King said...

I found this article interesting. I will make an effort this Advent to learn more of the Saints of Holy Ireland through your efforts.